For the Department

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In my second year of M.A English, V spoke of the department with a kind of intimacy I had never seen in him before. His eyes lit up with a delight I was beginning to grow both jealous and afraid of.

You should come to the department once and see’, he said.

I smiled. That afternoon, we were both walking towards the H-Block, making our way through a hundred odd heads all thronging in and out of classes. I was signing up for a certificate course called Contestations – A history of ideas. AM and CA were to teach it. I had heard enough about both of them to want to join without batting an eyelid. But mostly I had joined because I would then have an excuse to go see this famous department that welcomed you with towers of books that arched over everybody’s heads. ‘That’s what one sees first — the books’, said everybody.

It’s on the third floor‘, V said.

I took out 3000/- from my wallet to keep the money ready to hand it over to CA for the course. I took the staircase that I hardly take these days. These days. Such a waste thing to say. But I must say it because it reminds me of a simpler time that is not these days. 

So I took one step at a time and walked the length of the straight, wide corridor and its many huge and empty classrooms. I didn’t count the number of steps I took that day, a strange habit I otherwise like to partake in. I was panting by the time I had reached the second floor landing. ‘One more level to go‘, V said. Two months later, sitting in the dusty PG library, I will ask V if he is dying. The previous night, he will have told me that he has costochondritis and I will wonder if he will have enough time to read all the books. He will burst into echoing peals of laughter and call me mad. No, he is not dying.

On the third floor landing, I noticed that the air was a lot cooler and the sun, a lot more cheerful. There were fewer people here and I liked that a lot. V led me to take a right and beyond that lay a long corridor. I didn’t see it very well because I was distracted by a blackboard that said ‘Department of English’.

I waited for V to enter so I would be less embarrassed to sneak in after him. True to everybody’s word, there were the most number of books I had ever seen. It seemed like a happy place to be in. And there stood C.A, his hands about his waist, chuckling over something in the same way he chuckles now. Someone would have said something. V introduces me to C.A. I am shy but I extend my hand to shake his hand. I must have muttered something because V reminds me what I am here for.

  • ‘She wants to join the course’
  • ‘Oh! Good!’ 

I extend my other hand now. The one that has the 3000/-

I have only just made the movement when V breaks into a nervous fit of howls.

  • ‘Ey, you are not supposed to give the money to him’
  • ‘Ya ya, I have nothing to do with the money. I am just the facilitator. You must pay the office guys. I don’t take any money. This is not for me’
  • ‘Oh, Ok. I am so sorry’
  • *Chuckles* No problem. 

And so it was that I first visited the department and made an ass of myself on the same day. Many months later, sitting in K and sipping ginger tea, AM will narrate this scene to me and have a hearty laugh. That day he was sitting behind the bookshelf, at the computer. He will say that he found the whole money thing very funny. Many more months later, many more things will have happened. I will have managed to get my dream job in the best English Department of the country. ‘It is all happening too soon’, I will tell myself and I will be right in doubting every ounce of it.

I am sitting at a little desk that has become my home sooner than new homes have. I have made it mine. I learn its history and become familiar with its scratches and markings. It used to be AM’s. There is a drawer full of his stationery. I will sit that evening and empty the drawer, steal some of his stationery, give him the remaining. I will leave a post-it along with the stationery on his table. ‘Nagmani – Here is some stationary– Have at it’, says the post-it.

Next morning, the post-it has been returned to my little table, along with some corrections. ‘Stationary Stationery’, he has written.

I click my tongue and curse spellings. He walks in and laughs at me.

A few weeks later, I am having trouble with a class. I don’t know anything about East-European literature. I ask CA for help and he digs out his mammoth PhD thesis. It’s a blue spiral -bound copy. I thank him and proceed to my table. That afternoon, I will find myself sitting alone in the department. Everybody has left for class. A resounding silence calms the corners of the department and I will tell myself repeatedly that I am living the dream. I look up from my red dell notebook and pinch my arm. It’s really happening. I am in the English Department, sitting at my table and reading — preparing for a class — crying because I still can’t believe it’s happening.

This is a moment I will always go back to when I think about all the ways in which the department has changed today, these days.

There are many things about this place that will always remain deeply special to me no matter what changes in the department.

When whispers grow louder and violent these days, I think about the evenings that the department was once comforted by. AM would be at the computer, typing. CA would be at his table, having just chanced upon a new -age discovery he will continue to be baffled by for the rest of the millennium. I would be sitting at my new table by the window, trying to catch up with the moment and its force.

This was an every day sight back in the old department. I don’t get to see it these days. I can’t even listen to the faint trace of silence leaving its trails behind when it dissolves into god knows what. So much has changed since then. But the department will always be the place where I started to read and write. It still is the place I turn to, for comfort, among other things.

The history that I have with the department and the memories I have of some spectacular evenings far outweigh all the other nonsense that turns up now and then. I just need to look for the space and those evenings reappear as if they never left. I just need to look at P loitering around some corner with a book in his hand or S who comes bouncing to the department because she can’t live without it and I am convinced that the department continues to do for other people what it did for me. And that it is always open to people, even to those who attack it.

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